When American Congregationalist missionaries arrived in Hawai‘i in 1820, many initially opposed sugarcane planting for its worldliness and for the negative effects they perceived it as having on the Hawaiians they sought to convert. Foremost among missionaries’ complaints against sugarcane planting was its connection with distilling rum, a crucial source of revenue for cane planters throughout the world. However, missionary ideology proved to be flexible; and economic, environmental, and social factors all contributed to changes in missionaries’ positions toward sugar. Though resolute in their opposition to distilling rum, missionaries came to embrace sugarcane planting by the middle of the nineteenth century. Missionary support was instrumental to the rise of a distinct Hawaiian plantation system which upheld only certain missionary ideals.

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